Well, if you like the phrase “March Madness” and an NCAA Tournament littered with upsets, you’re a happy camper right now.
But if you’re an Ohio State fan or a Duke apologist or a Kansas believer or a Jimmer enthusiast, you are still scratching your head right now.
OK, you’re an educated sports fan so you knew that we’ve never had a year where all the 1-seeds have made it out to the Final Four. So you were bold enough to pick a few 2s. That didn’t hold, though, because none of them are going to Houston, either.
How can anyone explain what has just happened, what has left us with a wadded up pool sheet and a four-team race between Kentucky, Connecticut, Virginia Commonwelath and Butler?
It’s such an unlikely scenario that we can now hear cries of defense for the BCS system. I mean, are we really to believe that the squad hopping around in confetti inside Reliant Stadium a week from tonight is truly the best team in college basketball? Do we really have to accept that 34-3 Ohio State wasn’t a great team? Do we have to go to work this week feeling stupid because we thought Kansas would beat VCU?
I mean, honestly, who is writing this script?
But it is compelling. It is just another reminder of why sports is so dramatic and why tournament basketball is so unpredictable.
How unpredictable? How about this little fun fact: ESPN.com allowed fans to fill in brackets for free as part of a nationwide contest and out of the 5.9 million submitted, two – yes, two – had the correct Final Four. And that raises a simple question: Who are these two aliens who got it right? Seriously, are they VCU grads who now live in Indianapolis who have a crush on John Calipari and think Kemba Walker is the best?
I knew Kentucky was going to be a bit of a headache for Ohio State and still I was left stupefied when that game ended in a 62-60 loss for the Buckeyes. I covered that team for 37 games and just couldn’t believe the season had ended that abruptly. I looked around at the Ohio State fans behind and it was clear they felt the same way.
Jon Diebler’s father, Keith, a high school basketball coach, was still standing with his mouth agape. Just to see if he was breathing I made a comment to him. He answered but was clearly stunned. His wife, Renee, was weeping in her seat. Thad Matta’s daughters, Ali and Emily, also were choking on tears. Other family members of the players were just standing there looking out at the court.
This is March Madness defined. Logic goes out the window. Harsh reality takes its place.
So-called experts and analysts such as myself are left to look like asses for making predictions based in five months of observation that don’t deliver.
When asked who would emerge from the Southeast bracket on the radio, I opted for BYU. The Cougars, of course, lost in overtime to Florida. I also said it appeared Ohio State and Duke were on a collision course to meet in Houston. That course was derailed in the Sweet 16. Then I decied to get with the program and predicted Richmond could make it interesting against Kansas. The Spiders were splattered by Kansas, leaving everyone to groan about the easy path Bill Self’s team got – only it was Self who was left standing glassy-eyed like Keith Diebler after VCU methodically took down his allegedly unstoppable Jayhawks.
And so it goes. College basketball keeps leaving us breathless and spitting out storylines worthy of Hollywood films.
Kentucky isn’t exactly a Cinderella, but this is a Wildcats squad that lost five players to early exits and NBA draft status last summer. In Newark, Calipari transformed into a great game coach – who saw that coming? – and his players, who had struggled all season in close games away from home, suddenly became cohesive and clutch.
If the Buckeyes would have slipped by UK they would have made the Final Four. Of that I have no doubt. North Carolina is a very good team but not one constructed or tough enough to beat Ohio State in that setting. But Kentucky was – and fears were realized when Brandon Knight hit a tough pull-up in the final seconds with Aaron Craft right in his mug. OSU shouldn’t have let it come down to that possession, of course, but it couldn’t be helped on a night when it made just 19 of 58 field goals (32.8 percent).
Because of that, the Wildcats moved on and, as I forecasted (hey, I got one right) took down 2-seed UNC.
But fourth-seeded Kentucky is not the pleasant surprise of the tournament or the underdog of the Final Four – not by a long shot. Some believed UConn could get there based on the hot play of the Huskies in the Big East Tournament, the heroics of Walker and the evil wisdom of venerable coach Jim Calhoun, who has led UConn out of the West bracket and into the national winner’s circle twice.
However, UConn had to play five games in five straight days to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden, got a tough draw in the Big Dance and then got shipped three time zones away. The Huskies – summoning strength from other life forms, apparently – outclassed San Diego State and red-hot Arizona to reach the Final Four. Truly, it was a remarkable accomplishment.
But UConn isn’t the underdog of this puppy, either – not as a 3-seed, which makes it a kingpin this year.
Butler is really head-turning. The Bulldogs lost nine games this season and for a while looked like an also-ran in the Horizon League. Let me repeat that: the Horizon League. But you’ve got to like their odds in late-game situations because of the poise of the Bulldogs players and the calm direction of coach Brad Stevens.
Butler needed a scramble basket to beat Old Dominion in the first round. That was followed by a stunning and somewhat controversial win over top-seeded Pittsburgh. The Bulldogs out-maneuvered Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 and nipped Florida in overtime in the Elite Eight. This is a team that lost Gordon Hayward, the near-hero of last year’s dreamy run to the title game, to the first round of the NBA draft. This wasn’t supposed to happen again. But here is Butler – again.
As amazing as that is, the Bulldogs must have been pretty doggone good to make the Final Four two years in a row. So the story pretty much has to be VCU, right?
After all, the Rams weren’t even supposed to be in the tournament. When they made the field of 68 analysts screamed of the injustice and couldn’t believe Colorado and Virginia Tech had been subjected to such cruelty. Dick Vitale even tweeted that he lost sleep over it.
But VCU wouldn’t be around long enough to rub it in anyone’s face, all assumed. The Rams had to go to Dayton and take on USC in a First Four game, only they survived it, claiming the 11-seed in the Southwest. Next was Georgetown, then Purdue, then Florida State and finally Kansas. That’s correct, VCU knocked off power teams from the following conferences: the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12.
Stunning, just stunning.
VCU’s head coach is Shaka Smart, who is a mere 33 years of age. He and the 34-year-old Stevens combined are still younger than the 68-year-old Calhoun.
Again, who is writing this stuff?
So who would I take with this field such a jumbled mess out of the most likely Final Four in history?